Can you tell us more about the videos Combat tour 1 and 2?
You mean the “Ultimate Revenge” videos? I wouldn’t call them “tours.” The first one was cool, but it was released some time back when I was still in college. They used to show it between bands at L’Amour all the time, so I don’t think I even picked it up until I worked at Combat. The Slayer and Exodus footage was from a show they did with Venom at Studio 54 in New York… I don’t know how or why I missed that show…but the Venom footage certainly wasn’t from that show. I haven’t watched that tape in 20 years. The second one was shot at the Trocadero in Philadelphia, and I was very involved in that one. I unfortunately got stuck for hours in the sound truck because the techs weren’t familiar with the bands or the type of music. I was there to let the techs know that the sounds they were hearing were indeed the way the bands were supposed to sound.
I am no sound technician. My ears are good enough to know that all MP3s pretty much sound like shit no matter what the compression they’re encoded, but I am definitely not a sound tech. It all sounded great while I was in the truck. But it was a lot like when you hear your own voice on tape: you can’t believe that’s how your voice sounds because the vibrations are different inside you. I think the results sounded pretty bad.
It was great seeing all those bands on the same bill: Death, Dark Angel, Forbidden, Faith or Fear, and Raven. None of us knew why Raven was the headliner. They were way past their prime, and “Wacko” was gone. Don’t get me wrong, I like Raven; their first album is a testament to the greatness of the NWOBHM, but it was wrong to have them in the headlining spot. Most of us “non-executives” knew that after a long day of thrash and death metal, the fans of those genres weren’t going to stick around to see a band like Raven. Sad to say, that’s exactly what happened. When it came time to edit the video for distribution, Borivoj Krgin (Blabbermouth) summed up what we all knew was going to happen…very few fans stuck around, and the video had to be edited with crowd scenes from the other performances to make it look like people were there in force. I thought it was kind of sad. Mark Gallagher is a really nice guy; he’s a small part of why I love and still love heavy metal, but it was wrong to even have Raven on that bill at all, let alone as the last band of the day….
By the way, did you often go to shows, gigs to check out the bands on stage?
I’ve probably been to more shows than you’ve eaten hot food. I went to a scary amount of shows. Any time a Combat band was in town, I was there, and not out of professional obligation, either. I was a huge fan of these bands that I worked with.
Did the bands have the possibility to shot videoclips too? Would you say, that the videoclips played a more important role back in the day, than nowadays?
Video clips were kind of out of the company’s budget during most of my stay at Combat. The only clip I remember being produced was “Toxic Waltz” for Exodus. I got sent to Philly to check in on Faith or Fear’s recording, so I missed out on going to San Francisco to actually be IN the video. Video was EVERYTHING back then, but it didn’t make sense for Combat bands to make them, because there was no medium to air them. The only metal bands you’d see in regular rotation on MTV were the “hair” bands, and the occasional Priest or Scorpions video.
Were there any bands that you regretted not to sign them?
If you mean bands that we TRIED to get, but lost other labels, then Vio-Lence is at the top of that list. Testament was another one. And Wrathchild America was stolen out from underneath us by Atlantic Records at the last second. As for bands that we COULD have signed but didn’t, nothing really sticks out in my mind.
How were the Combat releases distributed in Europe? With which European distributors, labels were you in touch back in the day?
Music for Nations was that released most of the Combat bands in England and throughout Europe. Combat licensed and released a lot of MFN’s bands in America.
Did the label give the bands artist freedom or did you chip in what they have to do?
I’d say they had a lot of artistic freedom. I don’t recall anyone ever saying “this sucks, change it.” Maybe we should have, because I’m sure that we said “Man, this sucks” between ourselves on occasion. And I’m not naming names…
How about the cover of the releases? Did you have a –so to speak- label designer or could the bands decide with whom they want to work with?
Both, actually. Dave Bett was the art director when I left. He was responsible for putting the album art together, but the cover art was done by commissioned artists; most notably Ed Repka, who has produced great pieces for Megadeth and so many others. Sean Taggart did a lot of the more “hardcore” acts like Crumbsuckers and Agnostic Front. Then there was a guy, Matthias something, who did the great Heathen art that I mentioned before, and also the cover of the first Forbidden album, with the red and blue skulls smashing into each other. I LOVE those covers.
Did the label always pay royalties for the bands? Could the bands earn some many as for sales, merchandising, royalties etc.?
I never had any idea about royalties. I sometimes wonder if any of the bands got anything. Merchandising was usually handled by the bands themselves...
How was your relationships to the other indie labels? Were there a kind of competition among the labels or…?
There may have been a little competition between labels, but reps from every company were friends with each other. Everybody hung out with everyone else. I had gone out drinking with Brian Slagel on a few occasions in the past...what does that tell you?
How happened, that Combat never signed any European bands? Did you keep an eye what’s going on in the european underground by the way?
I think it was just easier for Combat to license European bands from Music for Nations than to sign them directly. There's a gigantic ocean between America and Europe. It's kind of hard to keep track of your “investments” that way. There WERE a number of European bands that Don Kaye and I wanted to go after. Artillery was one of them, Angel Dust, too. Combat didn't go after for the reason I mentioned.
Were there any releases that didn’t fulfil the hopes set on it, that didn’t fulfil the expectations?
I never really dwelled on it. If a band sold 35,000 to 50,000 albums, it was considered a raging success. I thought Heathen were going to be at least as big as Exodus, but it didn't happen. And I imagine that the label may have been a bit disappointed with the sales of Shotgun Messiah, because the execs thought they had the next Motley Crue on their hands. I was gone before that record came out; hell, they were still called Kingpin when I left, and the original singer was with them, before the bass player took over the vocals. I met that guy at a music convention. Didn't much care for him, he acted like the world owed him something. Maybe it did, because he's playing bass and writing songs with Marilyn Manson these days...
You know, I'm starting to think that Shotgun Messiah ended up on Relativity, not Combat.
How many items were pressed from the releases?
I think they'd press about 15,000 LPs to start, more for an act like Exodus or Forbidden. More copies were pressed if there was a need, of course...
Would you say, that Combat became specialized in thrash metal?
That sounds about right. That's pretty much what the label was all about. But don't forget, there was also Realtivity for the more mainstream and alternative acts, and In-Effect was created for more “urban” bands, for lack of a better term...
What were the most successful, the best sold and the most unsuccessful, the worst sold releases in the history of Combat?
I'd say Exodus were far and away the biggest band ever on Combat. Nuclear Assault sold well. There are many others, I'm sure, but I'm a little hazy on those kind of details after all these years. As for unsuccessful, I don't really remember too many. A lot of the licensed stuff kind of went nowhere, bands like Acid Reign, Agony, and Virus. Joe Satriani's “Surfing with the Alien” sold half a million copies when all was said and done, but that was on Relativity. I still handled college promotion for that album. I left before the album hit that mark. I'm still bummed that I didn't get a gold album for my work promotiing it.
Exodus couldn't WAIT to be signed to a major label. Capitol Records had a big interest in them, and from what I remember, the band thought the president of the company was going to release them from their contract like they did with Megadeth a few years before. They were pissed when Combat released “Fabulous Disaster.”
I don't know what happened after I left, but their next album “Impact is Imminent” was on the Capitol label. I think it sold less copies than Combat did with “Fabulous Disaster.” I heard many stories about why the album sold less than expected: Capitol didn't know how to market them; Capitol didn't promote them heavily enough, Capitol changed a lot of staff. Some of it is probably true, but at the end of the day, “Impact...” just wasn't a very good Exodus album, at least to my ears. It sounded thrown together to appease the label and get something on the market as fast as they could. Put it this way: I've listened to the first three Exodus albums thousands of times. I've listened to every album they've done after “Impact...” hundreds of times. I listened to “Impact is Imminent” once. Once!
Is it true, that Jeff Becerra said back then, that „Beyond the Gates” was going to be more commercial record?
Let's face it, ANYTHING Possessed did after “Seven Churches” was going to sound “more commercial” than that debut. “Seven Churches” was a brutal, brutal album. I just didn't like it very much. As I said before, I really loved the EP they did after “Seven Churches,” but I don't remember even one track off “Beyond the Gates.”
Combat Records was the „in house” heavy metal label for independent powerhouse distributor Important Record Distributors, Important had several offices in the United States that promoted and sold Combat’s releases, correct?
New York was the main hub. That's where I was. Los Angeles was the West Coast hub. Then there were satellite offices in Dallas, Chicago, and Atlanta. I don't think they did any distribution in those offices, it was sales, mostly. The merchandise was all shipped from the NY and LA warehouses.
Is it rue, that Important Records was also home to Megaforce Records in the mid-1980s and produced Metallica’s „Kill 'Em All” and „Ride the Lightning” (prior to Metallica’s transfer to Elektra Records), Anthrax’s „Fistful of Metal” and many other early Megaforce releases and Important also introduced the United States to many other labels, including Noise (Celtic Frost, Helloween and Running Wild), Neat (Venom, Raven) and Metal Blade (Slayer & Trouble) and usually releases were issued in joint venture with the Combat logo?
I think Important pressed and distributed the first two Metallica albums for Megaforce. I honestly don't know who did what to whom back then, it was before my time. I do remember several hundred copies of the original “Ride the Lightning” in the warehouse even after Elektra re-released it. The bands on the Noise label were initially pressed and distributed by Important, but Noise handled all the promotion, merchandising, etc. through a marketing company called Second Vision.
Slayer were never really on Combat, they were on Metal Blade. Combat made a deal with Brian Slagel to get a piece of Slayer. I don't know if it was a monetary deal, or if it was just pressing and distubution, but the deal was that along with Slayer, Combat also had to do the P&D for Trouble and...was it Fates Warning?
Combat Records was later taken over by Relativity Records, does it mean, that Combat stopped its activities or did it merge with Relativity?
I would call Combat being “taken over” by Relativity a “merge.” I think “consolidation” is probably a better word.
Owned by Sony Records, Relativity allowed Combat to exist for a brief period of time, before Combat Records would cease to exist and later, Sony would discontinue Relativity Records as well, right?.
That was couple of years after I quit. I never inquired about it, because I never really thought about it. Everyone who I knew there was gone by that point, I think. I'm glad I missed out in that. The only rumor I heard was that Sony bought out Relativity to get Joe Satriani. In reality, I think Barry Kobrin was just sick of it all.
The idea of merging everything under one label was an idea that had come up in meetings for years. I think it made sense in the long run,actually. The music scene was changing by that time, bands were blurring the lines between musical styles: “are they metal? Are they alternative? Oh...they call it 'grunge.' Well, on what label do we put THAT out? Do we create yet ANOTHER label?” It made sense to combine them all...
Were you good collegues? Did you get on well with each other? Did a good collective take shape among the workers of Combat?
There were good times and bad times, but, yeah, we all got along pretty well. We hung out away from the office, some of us on a regular basis.
When and why did you leave the label exactly? Did you never think about to form an own label? What did you do after you left Combat and what do you do these days?
I left because I got a HUGE opportunity to work for a producer who was starting his own label. The money he offered was three times what I was making at the time. Unfortunately, the label never happened. I worked for the label that released the first Biohazard album, but the office was VERY far from my house. A good portion of my salary went to transportation expenses. My paychecks bounced two weeks in a row, and before I could quit, I got laid off because there was no money to be had. This was in September, and the owner said he wanted me to come back in January. I never spoke to the guy again. The label collapsed only a few months later.
I loved the idea of forming my own label, but I knew I’d never be able to pull it off, even if I had the money. Thrash metal was dying at the time, and I didn’t think that „grunge” was the „next big thing.” Mother Love Bone was supposed to be The Future of Metal, but I absolutely HATED that album. I didn’t hear Nirvana until about a month after „Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a massive hit. I STILL can’t figure out why Pearl Jam are so huge.
Now I do bookkeeping and IT for a small company in New York City, and have been there for almost 18 years.
How did you view the situation of metal during the ’90s, when grunge and pop/punk almost annihilated the metal scene? Did they efface the metal scene?
Every „music scene” eventually gets pushed aside in popularity when something „new” comes along. It’s largely believed that The Knack were a large factor in „killing” Disco and ushering in „New Wave.” Whether it’s true or not is immaterial. What’s interesting about that is „My Sharona” was The Knack’s only hit; the only one anyone remembers, anyway. Can ONE song „annihilate” an entire genre of music?
I don’t think the grunge and pop/punk „annihilated” ANYTHING. „Market Saturation” took care of that. How many thrash bands were out there when grunge came along? How many of them sounded discernible from each other by that time? I could rattle off a list of names, but there’s no point. Bands like Mordred were incorporating new ideas into the thrash sound by adding a DJ; Anthrax had their flirtation with rap.
It was the same with the „hair bands.” Almost ALL of them sounded EXACTLY the same to my ears. When Warrant released the video for „Down Boys,” my only reaction was a somber „Oh, no..” It wasn’t grunge that killed off „hair metal.” „Appetite for Destruction” killed ’hair metal.” Countless bands stopped wanting to be Motley Crue or Poison (blecch) and wanted to be Guns N Roses. Even well-established „commercial” bands felt the blow: Scorpions „Eye 2 Eye” disastrous flirtation with „funk,” and Def Leppard’s incorporation of...whatever...that resulted in the „Slang” album.
So, as „My Sharona” brought us into the 80s, „Smells Like Teen Spirit” ushered in the 90s. But don’t forget about bands like Faith No More, who had almost an equal hand as Nirvana in changing the musical landscape and idea of what „metal” was at the time. I love FNM’s „The Real Thing” a HUNDRED times more than „Nevermind”, and it has NOTHING to do with „Epic.” Alice in Chains and Soundgarden are two more bands that helped to shift the metal axis, but it took me a very long time to appreciate those bands.
But there’s one thing that seems to get overlooked when people talk about music scenes „killing” older scenes: the genres that get wiped out never really go away, do they? They just go out of fashion. And old friend once told me that disco didn’t „die,” it just went „underground” for a while. Today, it’s called Trance, or Trip-Hop, or Dance Music, but it’s all rooted in disco. Bands like Iced Earth and Nevermore have been around for a long time now, and they’re as „old school” as it gets. The so-called „dinosaurs” bounced back in a big way. Iron Maiden and Judas Priest got restored to their former glory simply by regaining their „estranged” lead singers. And I’ll never understand why it took Rick Rubin to give Metallica the wake-up call that had been slapping them in the face for years: Give the fans what they WANT, and the fans want Metallica albums that sound like Metallica albums.
In 1999 Century Media century media re-released almost the whole Combat catalogue, were you aware of it?
Sure! I'm on the Century Media mailing list. Their catalog is HUGE! And I'm reasonably sure that the guy who runs the Century Media label used to do a fanzine called “No Glam Fags.” I also think he's the guy that Gene Hoglan and Gonz from Dark Angel had me do a phone interview with pretending to be Ron Reinhart. We were all half-drunk and Gene was tired of interviews, so they coerced me into doing it. I was okay until he asked me about the lyrics. He HAD to know something was wrong by that point. If he finds out about this, he may fuck up my next order...
How do you view the present scene compared to the ’80s? Did you keep an eye on what’s going on in the underground after Combat’s demise at all?
I've kept an eye on the underground since I was in high school. Nothing's changed with me. There are some AMAZING bands today: Lamb of God, Mastodon, Children of Bodom, Arch Enemy, In Flames...do I need to go on? I also love bands like Iced Earth and Blind Guardian, bands that fly the “Old school” flag. Have you heard Municipal Waste? They're an 80s throwback to D.R.I. if there ever was one. Slayer and Exodus are still gods to me...Gary Holt still writes AMAZING thrash riffs. Metallica have gone back to being Metallica. I'm glad they're all still doing what they do...
The internet has made it SO easy to discover new music, and I don't mean file-sharing. Sites like Pandora.com. Last FM and YouTube make it easy for me to sample what I may be interested in, and Blabbermouth lets me find EVERYTHING I could ever want to know that's happening in metal....sure beats the days of “tape-trading,” although that was a lot of fun in its day.
I've been listening to a LOT of female-fronted symphonic rock/metal the last few years. I love Nightwish and Within Temptation (especially Within Temptation...I want Sharon den Adel to be my wife. I haven't had a crush like this on anyone since high school. I can't put my finger on what it is about her that does it for me, but I'm hooked on her. Either Sharon or Simone from Epica. I'm into heavy-yet-melodic stuff these days. It may be a result of getting older, but I think it's because I just can't listen to Lamb of God all the time...
As you told above you did a fanzine and you were in the tape trading scene, which fanzines do you recall from those days? Do/Did fanzines play an important role in the metal scene?
Fanzines were great. The shittier looking the better. This was before we had computers, so it was all cut-and-paste and stencilling. The writing was honest. The bigger metal ’zines were Metal Mania (San Francisco), New Heavy Metal Review (Los Angeles), Metal Forces (U.K.), and Kick Ass Monthly (New York). And I think Maximum Rock N Roll is STILL alive and kicking (even though it was never a metal zine). Fanzines were HUGELY important to the scene because it was a great way to find out WHAT was out there that you wanted to seek out and hear. They were a „doorway into the unknown.”
Would you say, that printed fanzines went almost out of fashion?
Fanzines out of fashion? The entire magazine media is headed „out of fashion.” I used to subscribe to 15 computer magazines; only PC World and Maximum PC are left standing. Major newspapers have gone under. The New York Times seems to be headed toward becoming an „online only” publication. I miss the portability of paper media, mostly because I don’t have internet in my bathroom.
Webzines are very popular these days, Do you often watch them?
I check in with Blabbermouth a lot of the time. That concentrates the information from several metal webzines into one site. But I do check out a lot of webzines. Just don’t ask me for names!
As for the music business as a whole –especially labelswise- how much did it change compared to the ’80s?
I still have friends in the music business. The business has definitely changed, and I’d say that it’s COMPLETELY due to the shift to digital downloading, and I mean LEGAL downloading. I have a friend who works at a major company whose job it is to order the pressing of CDs. His fear is that new CDs will no longer be manufactured a few years from now and he’ll be out of a job.
I will very much miss CDs. MP3s are „faceless.” They’re not a „tangible” media. If there’s any artwork, you have to download it and print it yourself. I’m absolutely fine with Metallica selling MP3s of all their concerts, complete with printable artwork, but if „Death Magnetic” wasn’t available on a physical pro-pressed storebought CD, I wouldn’t own the album at all. I want the actual CD.
What do you think about downloading, file sharing and the mp3s? Do they cause big harms for bands and labels?
As I said before, the ubiquity of recordable media like CD-Rs and sites like MySpace are great ways for bands to „make a name” for themselves as compared to the tape-trading days. Illegal filesharing and downloading have an impact on CD sales, I’m sure, but iTunes is doing HUGE business in this department, so what does that tell you? I don’t want to download MP3s and have to convert and burn them myself to play in my CD player. I’ve said it before: I think MP3s sound like shit. It’s a „lossy” format. Too much information is sheared away during compression. It’s NOT a true representation of the actual recording. The only way I would EVER purchase downloadable music is is the entire album is available as a „CD image”. This way, when I burn the image file to CD, I have an ACTUAL copy of the music thet way the artist intended it to be heard.
But why go through all that when I can make a few clicks on Amazon and get the real CD sent to my house? I can rip the music to my iPod and have the CD for home use...and as a permanent backup.
How do you view that a lot of labels stopped sending promos and they are rather sending digital formats? Is this the future of metal and music as a whole or…?
It saves a lot of money for the label, that’s for sure, but I wouldn’t want to play MP3s over the radio, although I’m sure it’s being done. I’ve been out of the business for a long, long time. But I would want the image file, as I said earlier...
As for Combat, did you have statistics or provings/statements which records were sold the most? From where were you informed about the selling?
No clue. I’m sure the accountant knew, but I don’t think I ever had a conversation with the man.
Are you still in touch with the former Combat members these days?
I'll speak to someone from time to time, but we walk in different circles today, you know? Which is how it should be. But I signed yup at Facebook a few months ago, and have been able to re-connect with a lot of my old friends and colleagues from those days. I'm so glad my friend Sue talked me into signing up...I have been on the verge of tears more than a few times since signing up and talking to old friends I thought I'd never hear from again. Not very “metal” of me, is it...?
What were your favourite releases in 2009?
EPICA "Design Your Universe" Far and away my vote for Album of the Year.
I didn’t buy or hear much new stuff this year, but these are the ones that made me happy, and in no particular order:
AMBERIAN DAWN “Clouds of Northern Thunder”
MASTODON “Crack the Skye”
DELAIN “April Rain”
WITHIN TEMPTATION “An Acoustic Night at the Theatre”
LEAVES’ EYES “Njord”
SIRENIA “The 13th Floor”
LAMB OF GOD “Wrath”
RAMMSTEIN “Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da”
Don, thanks a lot for your patience and time, anything to add what I forgot to mention?
My pleasure. I think we’ve covered everything!
(December of 2009)